A symbol of speed and power, the Peregrine Falcon is the most widespread species in the Falconidae family. Known to reach speeds of roughly 200 miles per hour and tackle prey much bigger than themselves, the world’s fastest bird is also one of the most formidable hunters.
Peregrine Falcons are sleek but powerfully built birds of prey with dark slate-gray upperparts and paler underparts. Their belly, upper legs, and undertail are whitish with closely spaced black barring, and their breast is white with fine black speckles.
Typical of the falcon family, these birds have dark head markings. In the Peregrine, their dark hood extends well below the eyes, but pale white plumage reaches up to the bill and onto the cheeks. Adults have sharply hooked black bills, dark brown eyes, and bright yellow skin at the base of the bill and surrounding each eye. Their legs and feet are the same bright yellow shade.
Female Peregrine Falcons are often darker than males (tiercels) but otherwise very similar in appearance. The most obvious difference between the sexes is size, with females growing much larger than their male counterparts.
Juveniles are similar to adults but browner above and buffy below. Young birds are also streaked rather than barred below and have blueish (not yellow) skin around their eyes and the base of their bill.
Peregrine Falcon adult
Juvenile Peregrine Falcon
Large for a falcon, the Peregrine is a medium-sized bird of prey about the size of a large crow or raven. The sexes overlap in size, although females grow significantly larger than males.
Adult Peregrine Falcons have a total body length of about 13 to 23 inches or 34 to 58 centimeters. Females are longer on average.
These powerfully built birds have a surprisingly wide weight range, with the smallest males around 0.9 pounds or 400 grams and the largest females reaching over 3.3 pounds or 1.5 kilograms.
Adult wingspans vary between 29 and 47 inches or 74 to 120 centimeters.
Peregrine Falcon taking-off from a branch to hunt
Peregrine Falcons are most vocal around the nest, producing a harsh ‘Haak haak haak’ or a higher-pitched ‘chi chi chi’ call.
Peregrine Falcon calling to warn off intruders
Peregrine Falcons are specialized hunters of other birds, although they are not fussy about the species. They are known to feed on hundreds or even thousands of different birds, ranging in size from Hummingbirds to Snow Geese and everything in between!
Would you like to learn more about the Peregrine Falcon diet? Check out this full diet guide for much more information.
Both male and female Peregrine Falcons deliver prey to their chicks. The downy white nestlings eat the flesh of other birds, torn into manageable strips until the chicks are old enough to feed themselves. Their parents will continue to feed them for several weeks or even months after fledging.
Peregrine Falcon feeding on prey
Peregrine Falcon feeding young at the nest site
Peregrine Falcons inhabit many different habitats on migration but prefer areas with cliffs for nesting. They naturally occur along rocky coastlines, river courses, and mountainous regions, but the species has also adapted to urban centers where they nest on skyscrapers and other tall buildings.
Peregrine Falcons are one of the world’s most widespread bird species, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. There are 19 recognized subspecies, with three occurring in North America alone.
Peregrine Falcons are remarkably adaptable birds that live everywhere from the High Arctic to the forested tropics. They are right at home in many modern cities where rooftops and ledges make ideal nest sites, and feral Rock Doves provide a year-round food source.
Check out our complete guide to learn much more about where Peregrine Falcons live.
Although increasing in number, Peregrine Falcons are generally uncommon to rare birds.
Pair of Peregrine Falcons feeding in natural habitat
Peregrine Falcons are widespread but patchily distributed in the United States. They are resident breeders in the Southwest, along the West Coast, the Upper East Coast, and parts of the Eastern Interior. They are summer breeding visitors to the Midwest and parts of Texas, and winter visitors to the Gulf Coast and the Southeast.
Although generally uncommon, Peregrines are widespread in the United Kingdom, including England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Coastal sea cliffs and mountainous country are the best places to spot these birds, although they also nest in major cities like Manchester and London.
Peregrine Falcons occur year-round along Canada’s west coast in British Columbia and Vancouver Island. They are also widespread breeding visitors to the northern half of the country and the prairies of the south.
Peregrine Falcons are uncommon residents in suitable habitats throughout most of Australia, although they are scarce or absent from parts of the southwestern interior.
Juvenile Peregrine Falcon in-flight over coastal area
Wild Peregrine Falcons are known to live for up to 19 years, although the average bird has a life expectancy of just five or six years. Check out our in-depth guide for much more on the Peregrine Falcon lifespan.
Few animals get the chance (or dare) to prey on healthy adult Peregrine Falcons. However, they are not safe from predation by much larger birds of prey like the Golden Eagle and Great Horned Owl. Carnivorous mammals like wolves and foxes also feed on their eggs and chicks at accessible nest sites.
Peregrine Falcons are listed on CITES Appendix 1 and protected by law in many countries, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States and the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the United Kingdom.
Peregrine Falcons are not endangered. Globally, the species is ranked as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List, and their numbers have increased since the ban on DDT, a harmful pesticide that decimated populations in the mid-twentieth century. However, the species is still illegally persecuted and collected in parts of its range.
Peregrine Falcon perched on top of a fallen tree
Peregrine Falcons do not usually build a nest at all, although they may use the abandoned nests of other large birds like Ravens. They typically nest on ledges of coastal cliffs, ravines, and mountainous areas but also use artificial structures like buildings and bridges and sometimes raise their young on the ground.
Check out this complete guide for much more on Peregrine Falcon nesting.
Peregrine Falcons nest in the spring and summer. Their timing varies greatly depending on location, with nesting starting much later in the Arctic than close to the equator. They raise a single brood per year, with incubation lasting roughly one month and fledging occurring five to six weeks later.
Peregrine Falcons typically lay three to six mottled brown or reddish-brown eggs, each measuring about 2 inches long and 1⅔ inches wide (52 x 41 millimeters).
Peregrine Falcons are monogamous birds that typically mate with the same partner year after year.
Nest of a Peregrine Falcon with three eggs
Peregrine Falcon at nest site with chicks
Peregrine Falcons can be highly aggressive when nesting and may attack any potential predators while calling loudly. They are known to divebomb and even physically strike intruding humans, so it’s best to stay well away from a falcon’s nest!
They are also aggressive toward their own kind when unwelcome birds intrude on their territory. Peregrine Falcon fights can be brutal and sometimes even fatal.
Peregrine Falcons typically roost on cliff ledges, high-rise buildings, and other sheltered spots that are inaccessible to ground predators.
Peregrine Falcon defending its nest site
Peregrine Falcons are partially migratory, depending on where they nest and which subspecies they belong to. They are seasonal visitors across most of their global range but occur in sedentary populations in many areas, including the United Kingdom and the West Coast of the United States.
Read more about the Peregrine Falcon’s migratory habits in this complete guide.
Peregrine Falcons are native residents and migrants within the United States of America. Three subspecies are known to occur in the US, namely the North American Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum), the Tundra Peregrine Falcon (F. p. tundrius), and Peale’s Peregrine Falcon (F. p. pealei).
Peregrine Falcons are a native species in the United Kingdom. The resident population in the UK belongs to the nominate subspecies, Falco peregrinus peregrinus.
Peregrine Falcon in-flight hunting for prey
Peregrine Falcons are naturally diurnal birds that may hunt at any time of the day, with peaks in the morning and late afternoon. They may hunt bats in the twilight of dawn and dusk and even use artificial light to hunt at night in urban areas.
Seabirds are an important component of the Peregrine Falcon diet, particularly for coastal populations. They are known to hunt many different Gull species in the Laridae family.
Peregrine Falcons typically hunt birds which they catch in the air. However, they are known to hunt many small mammals, including the occasional squirrel.
Peregrine Falcons are believed to be the World’s fastest bird and the fastest-moving animal on the planet. They can reach speeds approaching 200 miles an hour (320km/h) when stooping (diving) in to catch their prey, although they can’t achieve this kind of speed in level flight.
The Peregrine Falcon has an enormous worldwide distribution but generally occurs in low numbers. Their global population could stand anywhere between 100,000 and 499,000 individuals, according to Birdlife International, with about 72,000 individuals in North America and 32,000 to 62,000 individuals in Europe.
Peregrine, Duck Hawk (North American)
34cm to 58cm
74cm to 120cm
400g to 1.5kg
Eleonora’s falcons are polymorphic. That is to say they have two different plumage patterns and colours which are apparent within the single species. They are also monotypic indicating that there are no sub-species.
The merlin is a predominantly ground nesting falcon and the UK’s smallest bird of prey. Preferring upland and moorland areas for breeding the bird may venture in to lowland regions during the winter when it is joined by migrating merlins from Iceland.
The agile Kestrel searches for prey from above, often hovering motionlessly before diving in for the kill.
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